By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Maurice Donnell Harris admits that he killed two men in Tupelo during a 2010 armed robbery.
Friday, his victims’ families saved his life.
Harris, 43, a Chicago native, was allowed to plead guilty to the two capital murders, knowing the deal meant two life sentences without possibility of parole.
If he’d gone to trial, he faced the death penalty, District Attorney John Young said.
“The families came to us to work out a deal,” he said after Harris was sentenced by Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner. “They definitely were against the death penalty.”
More than a dozen people were in the audience in the large courtroom of the Lee Justice Center to hear Harris’ pleas.
Among them were the mothers of his victims, Jerry Wayne White, 35, and Alexander O’Neal Collier, 39, who died from gunshots to their heads on April 4, 2010.
Both Overa Collier and Gussie White Marshall told Harris they forgave him for taking their son’s lives.
“You took my only son away from me,” said Marshall to Harris, who sat with his head bowed and weeping. “But I told God, I said, ‘You gave your only begotten son for all of us, and I am giving back my son to you.’”
Overa Collier acknowledged Harris’ earlier comment to the court that he was sorry for what he had done to his family and the victims’ families.
“But I want you to say, ‘Forgive me,’” she said. “We forgive you because we have the love of God.”
The shooting deaths occurred on Linden Hill Street in the north part of central Tupelo called “The Hill,” which is about a half mile from where Harris was arrested.
A Lee County grand jury indicted him in August 2010.
At Friday’s hearing, Young represented the state with assistants Arch Bullard and Heather Joyner.
Harris was represented by Chris Bauer of Tupelo and Kelsey L. Rushing of the Mississippi Office of Capital Defense.
Bullard told the court that Harris was playing cards and gambling with White, Collier and others for about 18 hours at Collier’s 1011 Eisenhower Drive home. After they left the residence and took another man home, Harris shot the two men from the vehicle back seat.
Harris was arrested the next day at his in-laws’ home on Hilda Avenue.
He’s been in jail ever since.
Friday afternoon, he was placed in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections for assignment to a prison facility.